Castle Drogo

Sunshine helps, but Dartmoor is a beautiful place, whatever the weather. Today, spinning along the lanes and over the rolling hills, the hedgerows were blazing with sunny daffs, blackthorn fizzed in the hedgerows, and the granite moors stood out on the horizon, less menacingly than on a bleak winter’s day. We were headed for Castle Drogo, wielding our National Trust cards (so establishment, I know), mesmerised by the dramatic Teign Valley and looking forward to a cream tea in the cafe.

Castle Drogo is supposed to be the last castle to be built in England, around a century ago. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, it was an uber-ambitious project that was never finished to its original plans but that is stunning and extraordinary nevertheless. It is a wild mix of Medieval and Arts and Crafts, grandeur and intimacy, with ambitious ‘modern’ plumbing and electricity powered by the Teign. Family portraits hang all around as well as exquisite tapestries, but what stays in the mind is the poignant shrine to a beloved son killed in action in Ypres.

If you are anywhere near the A30, go and see it. Have a stroll round the formal gardens, marvel at the view and the dreams of a family who had the vision to do such a daring thing. Explore this modern castle with its home comforts that include a throne of a loo. Be uplifted. Be inspired. And have a scone. Cream first, then jam, obviously. This isn’t Cornwall…


Back to the 80s

I’m currently working on my third as yet unnamed novel. Part of it is set back in 1985 and during the course of research today (involving hours of distraction on the web) I was thinking about all those Hollywood Blockbusters from that decade. Some have become iconic, for good and not so good  reasons. Some have stayed with me personally for special reasons, bringing back happy memories of being a teenager (there were some). Others have become part of our national consciousness, the States’ popular culture really becoming enmeshed with ours so that language and looks and attitudes changed Britain as much as Thatcher.

So here is my top five faves and top five shockers (in no particular order).


1. Rainman: Touching and moving and a reminder that Tom Cruise could actually act, despite Top Gun, and before  Scientology made him a joke. Dustin’s acting ability has never been called into question. This film just confirmed it.

2. ET: Quite possibly the best family film ever, always guaranteed a smile and many tears. Introduced the concept of Hallowe’en trick or treating to the UK (not so good).

3. Beverly Hills Cop: Action, drama and laugh-out loud moments. And some bromance going on.

4. Fatal Attraction: The feminist in me shouldn’t like this portrayal of a woman who brought us the phrase ‘bunny boiler’. However, it’s exciting and the tension at the end is spectacular. And Glenn Close superb.

5. Back to the Future: Still amazing after all these years….


1. Rambo – Muscles and violence never did it for me

2. Anything with Swarzenegger for the same reason as above

3. The Breakfast Club: Boring and annoying

4. Porky’s – Sexist nonsense – can’t believe I watched it all the way through with a boyfriend who should have known better

5. Flashdance: Welder turns ballet dancer… I mean, really?

Gosh, I could go on and on but I’ll let you have your own memories of the days when it was cool to have big hair and big egos.









Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else. 

We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach. 

We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. 

Gloria Steinem 

Happy birthday, Gloria.


A little bit of politics

So I have now been blogging for a year… When I put my first post up last St Patrick’s Day I had no idea what I was doing, to be honest. Still not sure I do. But I have discovered a lot about what is important to me during my 90 posts, some of which have been a surprise.

The main themes I’ve rambled on about have been:


Books (my book in particular…)

Popular culture


70s and 80s nostalgia

Bruce Forsyth (and hurrah, he got his knighthood along the way!)

A little bit of politics (and a lot of Tory-bashing)

God and today’s church

Canada (where I live a parallel life in another space/time log cabin)

Music (pop)


Mental health


Having just read Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman (what a blast of fresh air!), I think it appropriate to dedicate this anniversary to the suffragettes who gave their lives for the rights of their sisters. A hundred years on, what would they think? What would they say to today’s young men and women? How would they feel, knowing that women are still judged by what they look like?  Lap-dancing, stripping, plastic surgery, bum implants, pneumatic breasts, Katie Price, Nuts magazine et al, Page 3, and the fact that women in the UK are paid on average 30% less than men despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970…what would they do with this very present and worrying reality?

I have two sons and a daughter and I know I have a duty as a mother to bring all three up as feminists.  It helps that we are a liberal-Guardian-reading household and that my husband and I were students in the 80s when Margaret Thatcher had a deep and long-lasting effect on our political beliefs. We talk about stuff, the media, the telly, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding… we debate. We let them ask questions and they know we don’t have all the answers. But they know right from wrong (mostly). And they know it is right to judge people by their actions, not by their looks/clothes/or walk.

Back in the 80s was an exciting time to be a woman. I was an English major, the  first of my family to go to a university. But what opened my eyes was the Women’s Studies minor I took, and the unit in Women Writers. I thought the bad times were behind us, that the future was bright for the human race, men and women alike. I thought that things could only get better a good decade ahead of Tony Blair (and even before Professor Brian Cox was a keyboard player). But twenty-five years later, I worry that my teenagers are bombarded with images that suggest women are still second class citizens. That the boys will have better life chances than their sister (though she is a tough cookie despite the obsession with mascara).

Don’t get me wrong … I like being a woman. I like wearing dresses and looking feminine. I like shoes and bags. But this doesn’t mean men should patronise me or think they have the monopoly on a conversation. And I like men too – they are somehow less complicated. You know where you are with them on the whole, even if it’s not always somewhere you want to be…

Maybe that’s why bloggging – and writing in general – can be so therapeutic. You can do it with no one looking at you. If I’m judged, it is by what I write, and the way I write it, including my occasional bad use of adjectives. And that’s fine.

Double Act

So pleased to have Scott and Bailey back on TV. A cop show headed up by a female dynamic duo, with a funny, hard, feminine female boss. Made me nostalgic for Cagney and Lacey who were fantastic role models back in the day when we were surrounded by men in moustaches and short shorts running around in Ferraris or whatever. 


And then a real treat: Watson and Oliver. Funny women that make me laugh out loud. Genuine laughter which makes you feel good. Definitely worthy of carrying the baton of French and Saunders with their celebrity parodies and ironic send-ups of women then and now (and a bit of Jane Austen thrown in). But what makes this sketch show unique is the poignancy that breaks through. The relationship between the prisoner and officer is touching…


So refreshing after the depressing awfulness of Take Me Out, Love in the Wild, etc etc etc…


Here Comes the Sun

Today is a beautiful spring day, hope in the air, new life, good times ahead… It’s been a long long lonely winter but, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

So if your a Stones fan, sorry, but here’s The Beatles (in our house, you can only be in one camp or the other, though I do have a soft spot for Brown Sugar).

Rock on, George, wherever you are…


The ‘F’ Word

In 2012 you can go into any newsagents and be faced with copies of ‘lads mags’ (aka pornography) whether you are looking for it or not. Going into WH Smiths in Teignmouth, you are bombarded by so-called ‘top-shelf’ magazines such as Nuts. Which is nuts.

March 2nd 2012. Why is Imogen posing like this? Why does she feel the need to do this? Money? Esteem? Power? With a car on her shoulder and a football survey by her thigh. Not only is this insulting to women, it’s insulting to men. Are men really are only interested in sport, cars and sex…?


We are told it’s empowering for women to get their kit off. It’s equality. It’s all good. But clearly it’s not. If young men and women, boys and girls, go into these shops and tilt their heads ever so slightly, they are faced with images of women that are unrealistic, negative and degrading. It only matters what you look like. Women don’t have brains, or feelings or status. They are objects. This is how boys are programmed to grow up and see women. This is how girls grow up and see themselves. Unless they are challenged by good male and female role models. Unless they are brought up to question the way women are portrayed in the media. Young people are bombarded with images constantly, all the time, and we need to help them make sense of them, to be objective, to question.

Until women are seen by themselves and by men as equals, there will not be equality. There will be abuse, violence and rape. Go behind the scenes of the frothy make-up and nudity of the sex industry and there is a darker side that we know goes on, but that we pretend doesn’t happen in a ‘civilised’ society.

Imogen, I don’t know who you are. I don’t know anything about you but now I have seen you like this I have made judgements about you that are most probably wrong. I wish I could talk to you over a cappuccino and find out who you are because that is what matters, not your body. You might think you are in control, and maybe you are in control of your own destiny. But that doesn’t help the rest of womankind in your country and over the globe. I don’t mean to single you out, it’s just that you are the one that popped up on my Google search (ironic that Google have a feminist doodle today)… I wish you well.

There are countless issues to discuss today, every day, but I have picked on this one because I find it depressing that society hasn’t moved on. I want my own kids, all teenagers now, two boys and a girl, to grow up knowing they have the same life chances and choices, and that this won’t be affected by how they look or by their gender.